Creative live-work spaces are seen as one solution to area’s housing needs | PostIndependent.com

Creative live-work spaces are seen as one solution to area’s housing needs

Carla Jean Whitley
Special to the Post Independent

creative housing solutions series

This week the Post Independent is publishing a series of stories about a unique effort to address affordable housing needs and what at least one local community might learn from others across the state. The series was made possible in part by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network. It also coincides with an affordable housing survey being conducted by Carbondale Arts and the town of Carbondale that will inform its next steps in developing residences for creative people. The survey is open through Aug. 6, and can be found at carbondalearts.com, "We Need to Hear From You on Affordable Housing," or carbondaleaffordablecreativespacesurvey.org

Part one: The affordable housing crisis.

Part two: Loveland’s artist live-work space inspired Colorado to seek similar opportunities statewide.

Part three: Trinidad’s public officials and artists work together to diversify the town’s economy.

Part four: As Carbondale considers the possibility of artist live-work space, what can the town learn from others?

When a group of volunteers from Loveland first approached Artspace, affordable housing wasn’t their motivation. The residents hoped to save the city’s historic Feed and Grain Building, and they saw the granary as a potential center for the city’s thriving arts community.

Artspace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit real estate developer, had built relationships in Denver before the Loveland group reached out in 2008. The organization develops living and work spaces for artists, but those Denver conversations were in a holding pattern.

“There was no affordability crisis,” said Shannon Joern, Artspace vice president of national advancement. “In fact, we had become engaged with the city of Denver and couldn’t move forward because, at that time, the city of Denver had a surplus of affordable housing units.”

Ten years later, Colorado has changed, and Loveland helped establish a statewide model that others — including Carbondale — will follow.

Loveland’s work with Artspace inspired the statewide program Space to Create, through which Colorado aims to build affordable live-work spaces for people in creative industries. Although Carbondale wasn’t selected for the state-run program, it is working with Artspace to explore affordable housing possibilities.

As the affordable housing crisis began to re-emerge in the lower Roaring Fork Valley and throughout Garfield County during the years following the 2008 recession, there has been a change in thinking about how best to approach the problem.

Before the recession, the accepted model in places like Carbondale and Glenwood Springs was to require developers of free-market projects to include a percentage of income-based, deed-restricted affordable housing units.

These inclusionary housing requirements have seen limited success. In Carbondale, for instance, deed-restricted neighborhoods such as Thompson Corner, Cleveland Place and Keator Grove provide below-market housing units for sale to qualified buyers. That has met one need, but affordable rental units remain another.

The post-recession years, and the resulting downturn in the local housing market, offered a reprieve to take a look at some other solutions.

Currently, local governments have banded together to fund a new regional housing needs assessment, the results of which are expected sometime in August. One possible outcome could be a ballot initiative to organize and establish tax funding for a regional housing authority that would take the lead in exploring and carrying out those solutions, thus removing the burden from private, for-profit developers.

Already, community solutions such as this live-work concept for artists and others in the creative trades are stepping into the affordable housing gap.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Pull together a randomly selected group of 10 Colorado residents, and more than half will be transplants from other states or countries. The state’s well-publicized population increase is one of several factors that led to an affordable housing crisis.

The state’s population has increased by more than a half-million people since 2010, according to the Colorado State Demography Office, a figure that includes both migration and births. An increase of 1.4 percent between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, indicated the state was the eighth-fastest growing in the nation.

Colorado’s rural counties have generally seen greater growth than their counterparts in other states, according to “Rural Economic Resiliency in Colorado,” a 2016 report from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

This challenge is particularly noticeable in mountainous communities, like those of Garfield County. Even when funds exist and developers are interested in building, topography limits opportunities for expansion.

Although some natives tend to indicate transplants as the source of the state’s affordability crisis, the population influx is only one piece of the puzzle. Locations that draw many second homebuyers see increased pressure on the housing market, the report noted. And residents are more likely to see economic struggles when their communities are heavily dependent on a single industry, such as oil and gas or tourism.

WHO CARES?

Affordable housing isn’t only about attracting people to a community; it affects retention. Communities where wages don’t reflect housing costs struggle to keep essential employees, such as teachers, nurses and police. Housing shortages also limit a community’s ability to recruit businesses, which could then create jobs.

Garfield County’s past affordable housing efforts have had mixed results. Glenwood Springs, for example, altogether removed its inclusionary housing requirement last fall, after it had been suspended for several years following the recession.

The city’s rule had required developers of projects with six or more residential units to make 15 percent of the project’s units affordable. Deed restrictions included income qualifiers based around the area median income, along with annual appreciation caps and rules that owners have to occupy the units. Glenwood’s housing program generated only 10 deed-restricted, for-sale units in a little more than 10 years, where Carbondale’s program was able to produce more than 150 units.

Glenwood Springs introduced its rule in 2001, then suspended it for six years to promote post-recession growth, before dropping the requirement.

“Personally, I’m motivated to see a workforce housing policy, but this is not it — it’s taxing the homebuilder,” Glenwood Mayor Mike Gamba said at the time. “If there’s a need in the community, then the community needs to pay for that need.”

In recent years, Glenwood has instead focused on incentives for deed-restricted rental units, offering a program where developers of rental projects can take advantage of impact fee waivers in exchange for limiting rents based on a tenant’s income.

A PROPOSED SOLUTION

Artspace takes a different approach. As a nonprofit developer, its mission is to not only create but maintain affordable housing over the long term. The organization owns most of the properties it works with, and therefore has the ability to keep rents low even as demand grows.

Colorado’s work with Artspace has grown in a direct response to its creative districts’ needs, said Colorado Creative Industries director Margaret Hunt. CCI is the certifying body for the state’s creative districts program, of which Carbondale is part.

CCI polled those entities to learn about their greatest challenges, and affordable live-work space was clearly a top need.

Artspace has worked in dozens of mostly urban communities across the United States. But the challenge is different in Colorado, where many rural communities, especially those in the mountains, experience extreme costs of living.

However, Colorado has also embraced a unique approach to its economic challenges. Colorado Creative Industries is a division of the state’s office of economic development and international trade, and its programs aim to diversify the economy and create jobs through supporting creative industries.

Artspace’s Joern said CCI and its programs show the state is more willing than most to support rural economic development in creative ways.

And while housing for creative industries is not a one-size-fits-all approach to solving Colorado’s affordable housing crisis, it is a step forward.

Creating space for this segment of the population opens up existing housing units for others, which could help the community as a whole, one home at a time.